The ability to cram an interesting story, full of fully realized characters into a single comic book has nearly become a lost art. Now, I love a good story arc as much as the next person, but there is something magical about a single comic book that contains all of the elements needed for quality 4 Colour entertainment. Over the next little while, I’d like to focus on what I’ve inducted into my own personal Single Issue Hall of Fame. These are book that have been able to excel on all levels within the confines of two staples and one cover. Here’s my first inductee:
Conan the Barbarian #9
I’ve always liked Conan. I stress liked, because I am not one of those people who absolutely loves Conan, as I was never really into the sword and sorcery stuff as a kid, so I really only read this comic sporadically (we are talking early 80s here) and I actually preferred the black and white magazine.
When I began collecting back issues, however, early Conan books were easy to track down and still not too pricey. One of the earliest ones I got my hands on was issue #9, featuring 'The Garden of Fear'. I probably liked it well enough as a child, but I don’t really remember the story staying with me for too long.
I re-read it more recently in one of the Chronicles of Conan volume and was totally blown away. Of course, Barry Smith’s art is engaging and dynamic, but I was most struck by the sense of atmosphere created by the combination of Smith’s art and Roy Thomas’ words. The whole notion of the black winged demon in a tower surround by carnivorous plants had such a great Gothic, almost Lovecraftian feel to it.
As I understand from the afterword to the volume, Thomas adapted this tale from a non-Conan story written by Howard. If found this to be somewhat ironic as I perceive it to be the perfect Conan story. If you have read it, I urge you to seek it out. This is as fine a comic book story as you were likely to find at Marvel in the early 70s – it is simultaneously beautiful and unsettling.
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